George Washington University Law School's India Project: A Strong International Voice

Saturday, November 1, 2008 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Susan Karamanian, Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies, George Washington University Law School.

Editor: Dean Karamanian, would you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Karamanian: I am responsible for GW Law's international and comparative law program. I manage our relations with foreign legal institutions, including foreign law schools and governments. Also, I work closely with the more than one hundred international students enrolled in our LL.M. program.

I came to GW in 2000 from private practice in Dallas. I was a partner in what is now Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, so the career move was a significant one for me. I was drawn to GW given the high quality of its faculty and students and its international focus. The opportunity to work in our nation's capital and help build GW's international program was simply too great to pass up.

Editor: You help manage GW's India Project. How did this undertaking originate?

Karamanian: The project originated with Raj Davé, one of our alumni and also a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur. Raj wanted to help enhance India's intellectual property law capacity. Our law school has one of the nation's premier IP programs, and a couple of our faculty members had existing ties to India. Raj suggested that we arrange a series of events in India for judges, lawyers, scholars, government officials and business leaders - principally Indian and American, yet also European and Asian - on IP issues. We developed a model with two main features: a mock trial and an IP rights summit. The mock trial involves U.S. lawyers presenting a patent case before a U.S. judge and jury (consisting of Indians from the audience) under U.S. law with the same issue being presented later in the day by Indian lawyers before an Indian judge under Indian law. The IP rights summit, which we co-sponsor with the Confederation of Indian Industry, examines substantive IP issues in detail. After a very successful beginning, the mock trials and IP rights summit have become annual events. We organize around them other activities, such as court and law school visits, sessions with the judiciary, etc.

Since we last spoke about GW's India Project, the Dean of GW Law, Frederick M. Lawrence - whose expertise is in criminal law and constitutional law, incidentally - has been to India twice and participated in the GW activities. After his first trip, particularly after observing argument before the Supreme Court of India and noting the similarities between our two judicial systems, he felt strongly that our work should extend beyond IP law. We are now expanding the project to the corporate law area. The Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs has asked us to work with it in connection with the new Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs. This project is ideal for us since it requires substantial expertise across a wide range of corporate law disciplines - which I am glad to say we possess - together with a clear recognition of the benefits of a strong corporate law system to the economy of India.

Editor: What has GW's India Project accomplished since its inception?

Karamanian: We have contributed to education by heightening the dialogue and understanding between India and the U.S. on IP law. We have done so in a collaborative way, as we have much to learn from our Indian counterparts. For example, the new Indian patent law, enacted in 2005, involves a range of issues that require clarification, and the project has resulted in a two-way discussion of real importance to the future of IP protection in India and across the world. Is the new law in compliance with Indian constitutional standards? How does it compare with U.S. law in addressing issues that arise during the processing of a patent application? (With regard to this question we recently held educational sessions with patent examiners at various Indian patent offices). Is it consistent with international standards? These are just some of the issues that attract the attention of people associated with GW's India Project.

The project has also developed a relationship with the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law at the IIT-Kharagpur. Our faculty has provided lectures there. We have provided input on the IP curriculum. Our challenge going forward is to build closer ties given the substantial distance between the two schools. We envisage more videoconferencing, and we are establishing means to have IIT faculty and students at GW on a more regular basis.

Editor: Please tell us about the relationships GW has built in India with the legal community.

Karamanian: All of our mock trials and summits in India are open to the public. At any event, we attract lawyers, business officials, government officials, scholars, students and, sometimes, even activists from the local community as well as from across the country. Among the Indians who have supported us in this regard - as panelists, participants in legal roundtables, counsel in one of our mock trials, or judges in similar proceedings - are Members of Parliament, the former Justice Minister and former President of the Indian Bar Council, and Indian Supreme Court Justices and other members of the Indian judiciary. We have also benefited from the participation of outstanding American lawyers and U.S. federal judges, including Judge Randall Rader of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

We have a good relationship with the Indian judges due to our work with the courts, judicial associations and the Indian Judicial Academy in Bhopal, which helps train the Indian judiciary. Our judicial roundtables - which involve members of the bench from both India and the U.S. and judges from other countries - have been quite successful.

I have mentioned our ongoing relationship with the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law. Our recent mock trial held at the University of New Delhi was, among other things, intended to introduce a new group of students and professors to GW and to the project. Our idea is to hold events in a variety of settings - Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai come to mind - where we can reach out to the broader Indian community in order to also encourage interest in the programs we offer in Washington, DC. We have already seen a substantial increase in the number of LL.M. students from India since the inception of the India Project.

Editor: When we last spoke, the dominant theme of the project was in the IP area. You have mentioned corporate law as an area for expansion. Are there others?

Karamanian: Yes. GW is the only law school in the U.S. offering courses and an LL.M. degree in government procurement law. Indeed, GW founded the discipline in the U.S. India has a large civil service, and its procurement process is quite complicated and under regular scrutiny. As it happens, a member of the Indian civil service is now with us in Washington studying procurement law. We hope his training and experience at GW will cause him and his colleagues to think about how we could work together on a more structured and permanent basis.

Environmental law, another area of strength at GW, is on our radar. As it happens, the Indian judiciary has been active in enforcing environmental laws. In fact, the Indian Constitution includes a directive principle calling on the State to protect and improve the environment. This leads into another area of inquiry, constitutional law. Certainly the world's two largest democracies, which share the common law and a strong constitutional tradition, must have a considerable amount to learn from one another on a variety of constitutional issues.

Arbitration is my area of interest. India enacted a new arbitration act in 1996. Decisions under the new act have led to interesting developments. A current issue of note concerns the authority of an Indian court to set aside an award that is "in conflict with the public policy of India." Our work so far has examined the arbitration of IP disputes, and I would like to expand it to arbitration, in general, and as to both domestic and foreign awards.

Editor: As India moves into the global arena, do you see a convergence in legal developments between India and the rest of the world?

Karamanian: India and the U.S. are common law countries. Our respective courts work in English. Like the U.S., India has a dynamic and sophisticated bar and a strong tradition of judicial independence. Thus, our legal systems already have a lot in common .

It is important to recognize the differences and accept that some differences may involve practices at the heart of our respective legal traditions. Every legal system has unique features, and it is these unique features that make it possible for us to engage in comparative work. For example, we were just discussing the enforcement of arbitral awards in India. Indian lawyers, like U.S. lawyers, are trained to think critically, to question. Many of them are familiar with how other legal regimes have struggled with award enforcement issues, and they know that the arbitration process could be undermined if awards could be set aside easily. At the moment, India appears to be out of step with some nations with respect to the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards, and I think a great many people - including members of the Indian legal community - will appreciate the impact of this on the Indian economy. Yet, it is important that we understand why the Indian courts are struggling with the enforcement issues. Interestingly, if you review some of the early U.S. jurisprudence on arbitration, you will see U.S. courts were struggling with the public policy aspects of arbitration, and we still see some interesting developments in that area.

Editor: Now that the project is up and running, how do you see it evolving over the next few years?

Karamanian : We will continue to expand into new areas while building on our IP law core. I mentioned the new focus on corporate law, environmental law and government procurement. We are reaching out to new Indian institutions as well. Just recently the director of the Aligarh Muslim University visited us in Washington to discuss collaborative ideas, e.g., hosting a forum via videoconference on Islamic finance. In light of the size and importance of India's Muslim community, we believe that a relationship with institutions representative of that community is beneficial in many respects, particularly given the need for dialogue. We plan to continue to explore opportunities in this area in addition to expanding the orientation of the program from its original IP focus.

Also, I mentioned the involvement of the former Indian Justice Minister, Ram Jethmalani, at one of our events in India. He recently visited Washington and spoke at GW about the American-Indian civil nuclear agreement in the bilateral context as well in the context of the multilateral nuclear regime. I would like to think that the GW India Project is making, and will continue to make, an important contribution to the discussion of a range of issues facing the international community. We offer a forum and we also have a message, and that message is that the careful and critical review of issues of mutual concern will lead to better laws and policy. My colleagues and I take a great deal of pride in the fact that George Washington University Law School's India Project has played this role.